Vague Visages Short Stories: Bleeding and Breathing Deeply by Q.V. Hough

Editor’s Note: All of Vague Visages’ short stories are free-to-read.

A David Lynch actress welcomed me to Hollywood. Sunlight struck the second floor, a darkened room no more. I thought of Mulholland Dr., palm trees and gargantuan smiles. Dreams had become a reality: Fargo to sunny Los Angeles. For years, Mulholland Drive marked the literal connection between my personal and professional life, and Lynchian visuals often crossed my mind. 

I spent many evenings at The Power House, Hollywood and Highland: darts, cigarettes and three-dollar PBRs. What a magnificent dump. And it had the cheapest drinks in the neighborhood. The jukebox pumped out The Black Keys, The Doors and CCR, at least when my quarters dropped. The locals smoked outside and spoke of the next round. Cricket and brew. Strange brew. With only two boards, you couldn’t just play darts; you had to prove yourself. Surprisingly, bare-knuckle brawls rarely broke out. The tourists, obnoxious and adorably ignorant, typically caused the most problems. I could always expect familiar faces at The Power House, yet I rarely rolled with the regulars. Maybe I had read too much about Hollywood history. Boogeymen around the corner. The Black Dahlia. The Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Lynchian imagery crept into my subconscious, looming over my day to day experiences.

Believe it or not, the local crowd enjoyed talking movies. And I — a 20-something introvert from Fargo — had never seen Fargo. Don’t judge me. Fargo fucking irritated me. And so did Silver Lake hipsters with all their bullshit Fargo accents. I’d seen nearly every other movie, though, certainly Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Some of the enigmatic Power House patrons reminded me of Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth — not eccentric Frank Booth; I’m talkin’ out-of-his-mind Frank Booth.

That guy scares me: screaming, inhaling, ranting, raving; the kind of guy that smiles and frowns during the same sentence. Frank lurked near The Power House every night. My favorite dive felt purely Lynchian with all its outcast characters — musicians, hustlers, graffiti artists, idealistic tourists and the occasional celebrity. Oh, and me, too — the Fargo fuck from the Midwest.

One night, Frank Booth, that Lynchian lunatic, taught me a lesson.

Let’s go, shithead. You’re about to get a proper Hollywood tour.

This guy. His visage reminds me of Mulholland Dr. and Betty Elms’ grandparents, all enthusiastic and creepy. I head to the pisser, step around the actual piss and someone’s already banging hard on the graffiti-laced door.

Let’s go, Fargo. Put your dick away and tell mommy you’re not coming home tonight.

I realize that Frank doesn’t want a dart re-match. In my time of pissing, I contemplate the word, or words, that pissed him off. Where did this guy come from? I hadn’t arrived with a crew; I’d just been hanging out, waiting for the neighborhood crowd. More pounding.

Don’t worry, fuck. Ease up on your grip. Let’s take a quick spin. I’ve got some Fargo questions.

More laughing. A quick spin, huh? A freshly-cut ear around the corner, soaked in Hollywood grime. I know this tale; I’ve seen it before. Still, I knew enough Hollywood types to recognize the test. And I remember that Frank, the man in black, has some Hollywood credentials. Connections, Q, connections.

Frank turns off the Boulevard and speeds east down Franklin. He screams, but it’s not a scream of liberation. It’s the scream of an executive-type slumming around in the neighborhood for one night. Some exec reliving the old days, I bet. Sure, I can vibe with that. But it feels odd that he asks me to sit in the back seat. Frank doesn’t slow down. And what seems like a regular night transforms into a cinematic event.

The breaks.

You scared, fuck?

I don’t know if he’s joking or testing me or flat out mad. Frank inhales something, and I have my answer. Words drip from my mouth.

Shut up, fuck! I’ll throw you back in the trunk.

He’s quoting Fargo. Oh geez. It’s a little darker now.

Frank heads west; I’m out of my mind. He’s bleeding, breathing deeply, belting out Bobby Vinton and blasting bums, verbally, at the corner of Franklin and Sycamore.

Remember Bobby Fuller, Fargo? He lived and died here, man. And Janis, too.

Frank doesn’t need to know that I live down the street on Sycamore. He doesn’t need to know that I know about his blue velvet, and that shiny object wrapped inside. Frank makes a sharp turn up Outpost. I remember my first Hollywood afternoon, and all that sunlight, all the palm tress. My chest tightens, Frank speeds up. I’m out of my mind, trying to process my Hollywood tour. And I know exactly where we’re headed. Mulholland Drive.

Fargo, huh?

Frank’s tone concerns me.

Look at you, Fargo, fucking around in the big city, huh?

The Ford Mustang stops and time stands still. It makes sense to run, but this isn’t Highland Avenue. Frank inhales some more, turns around and smiles. In the darkness, I spot the blue velvet. Frank whispers. Hush, puppy. He reaches down, inhales once again and reveals the shiny object, wrapped in blue.

Suppressed Smith & Wesson Model 39. You know what they call this, Fargo? A hush puppy. So, hush, little puppy. Hush.

The engine starts and Frank mumbles something about hopes and fears. He’s cracking up, tearing up, staring into the darkness. Gone. All this time, he’d mostly ignored my questions. But his tone feels more comedic than threatening. When I closed Frank out with a double bull, he’d spoke with the same cadence and edge.

Let’s drink to Hollywood, you Fargo fuck.

The bartender laughed hysterically, and I couldn’t figure out why.

Let’s drink… to dreams.

I had challenged Frank and beat him. Now, I’m bleeding in the backseat, thinking about that blue velvet. Frank stops again and turns on the radio.

Get out, fucker. I’ve got something to show you.

In the distance: the downtown Los Angeles skyline. For a moment, Frank circles the drive, muttering and completely mad. I look down below and outward to the now invisible Griffith Park Observatory. I can’t see it, but I can feel it. James Dean and Natalie Wood. Rebel Without a Cause. Hopper. So youthful, so idealistic. My thoughts are erratic. Fate is the dealer, and I am the player. A Russian author wrote that, and I now remember those words. Such peace and clarity. Something, or someone, now looms over me; Winkie’s monster around the corner. Frank, grinning from ear to ear, interrupts the visual triptych of mountains, cityscapes and the ocean blue… a setting that still appears blurry.

Now, listen to me, hush puppy.Tell me why the fuck you came here.

Frank demands answers. And his eyes suggest that I best speak up, along with the hush puppy pressed against the back of my head. Maybe the words don’t matter anymore. Maybe I messed with the wrong person. Maybe I should’ve stayed in Fargo. This doesn’t happen back home. Or maybe I had forgotten about the others on the fringe.

Well, shithead?

I raise my hands, slowly, and prepare for the blow, the bang, the boom. I howl like a wolf. I howl again. I howl, over and over, until Frank steps back and leers.

Oh, hush, puppy. Hush.

A feeling of dread takes over my body. Memories and visions. Lynchian vibes. The night sky transforms into a blue haze; a buzz elevates me above the drive, up and beyond the Boulevard, and down again.

You see the blue velvet, don’t you?  

I do.

Then speak up, Fargo, or fuck off.

I gather myself and stumble home down the Boulevard, bleeding and breathing deeply, drenched in Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Q.V. Hough (@qvhough) is a freelance writer and the Founding Editor of Vague Visages. In 2004, he graduated from Concordia College (Moorhead, MN) with bachelor degrees in Communication-Mass Media and History. From 2006 to 2012, Quinn lived in Hollywood, California and now resides in Fargo, North Dakota.